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Powell to Visit S. Asia, Battle With Terrorism High on Agenda - 2004-03-10


Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled to leave Sunday for a trip to South Asia, including stops in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. The trip to Islamabad is expected to involve discussions on hunting down the remnants of the al-Qaida terrorist organization and cooperation on crushing a recently revealed proliferation network run by Pakistan's top nuclear scientist.

Secretary Powell is expected to focus on counterterrorism and nonproliferation when he visits Islamabad, his first trip since 2002 when U.S. officials were worried Pakistan and India were on the brink of a nuclear war.

Relations between the two South Asian nations have improved significantly since then.

Thomas Donnelly, a South Asian analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, says Pakistan's support for the war against terrorism and the fight against al-Qaida have led to a monumental change in relations with the United States.

Mr. Donnelly says Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, has steered his country away from China, its traditional ally, and towards the United States, which is playing a more active regional role.

"The reversal of course of the Pakistani government since September 11 is nothing short of miraculous," he said. "Yes, Pakistan still has tremendous problems of its own governance, has tremendous problems of its own terrorist and Islamic radical elements involved, but the government of General Musharraf has executed something like a 180-degree turn.

A former advisor to three Pakistani prime ministers, Hussain Haqqani, has a less favorable view.

Mr. Haqqani, now a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says Mr. Musharraf's main motivation is trying to maintain his, and the military's, hold on power.

"The Pakistanis are not allies, General Musharraf is not an ally in the global war against terrorism," he said. "He is trying to cut his losses and try to retain Pakistan, the supremacy and the primacy of the Pakistani military within Pakistan's domestic politics and in the regional context."

Improved relations between the United States and Pakistan appear to have survived the stunning news last month that the South Asian nation's top nuclear scientist sold information about making atomic bombs to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Abdul Qadeer Khan admitted to peddling nuclear secrets, and was quickly pardoned by President Musharraf.

Mr. Qadeer Khan said he acted alone, and that no one else with the Pakistani government was involved.

Richard Perle, a former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and a consultant to the secretary of defense, says the major focus of the United States is to stop the transfers of nuclear technology and equipment.

"Even if one came to the conclusion that the state was involved, that this was a deliberate, covert policy, what do you do about it at this stage? I'm afraid that water has already passed over the dam so we are into damage limitation," said Mr. Perle. "I would much prefer to see A.Q. Khan before an appropriate tribunal and sentenced to a very long term for what he has done.

"He has done tremendous damage to the world in my view," he continued. "But I imagine the immediate concern of the United States was to stop the activities as soon as possible and hopefully that has been accomplished."

Analysts say the United States should take advantage of the recent thaw in Pakistan's troubled relations with neighboring India.

The two sides have agreed to resume peace talks on the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and the foreign ministers of both countries are scheduled to meet in August.

The president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, says Islamabad is beginning to act against terrorist groups within its borders - a key move that helps improve relations with Washington.

"I do think the trends in U.S. Pakistan relations are good," said Mr. Haass. "I think it is more than anything because the current Pakistani government has finally, if belatedly, come to the understanding that some of these groups they have been either tacitly allowing to operate or in some case supporting, either against India or against Afghanistan, that these groups are now a threat to Pakistan's own future and the government is beginning to act against them. That is good news for U.S.- Pakistani relations."

Mr. Haass says while Secretary Powell is not likely to accomplish all his goals on his trip to Islamabad and the rest of South Asia, he is arriving at a time when the atmosphere is more positive than its been in the region in many years.